Mythical Animals from the Bible

English translations of the Bible mention many animals that do not actually exist. Some people take this to mean that these animals did exist in Biblical times. However in many cases all we are seeing is a series of questionable English translations of ambiguous words, or words with multiple meanings. Some examples are given below. This article is a work on progress; feedback appreciated. In most cases I will give examples from the King James Bible.

Behemoth

Job 40:15 states"Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox". Quite a few modern commentators insist this reference is to a dinosaur, proving that humans and dinosaurs exited at the same, relatively recent time.

"Behemoth" is an essentially untranslated word; a Hebrew word meaning 'large beast'. The animal referred to an behemoth in this passage is no longer known for certain. The elephant and hippopotamus are the most commonly suggested possibilities.

Dragons

Various versions of the bible refer to dragons, for example: “And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years.”(Revelations 20:2 KJB). Translations differ but most of them reference the dragon in this line. This references most likely is to a dragon but seem likely to be intended as a metaphor rather than literal. the same interpretation applies to other dragon references in the bible, that they are intended in a symbolic sense.

Sforza dragon on the floor of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
Sforza dragon on the floor of St. Peter's Basilica, Rome | Source

Phoenix

Job 29:18 is sometimes rendered as: "Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days like the phoenix." (NRSV), But the word interpreted as phoenix is khol which may actually refer to the palm tree, but in most translations is thought to refer to sand.

Rashi explains the use of the translation phoenix thus: “It is a bird whose name is chol, and death has no power on it, because it did not taste the fruit from the tree of knowledge. At the end of thousand years it renews itself, and returns to his youth.”

Unicorn

The unicorn is mentioned several times in the Bible, in the King James version it is mentioned nine times as a translation of re'em, or one horn.

Often this is in the context of a magnificent wild animal or an animal than cannot be tamed. While this translation is logical it is more plausible that the original authors were referring to the wild ox, or auroch, which went by this name. In fact every English translation other than the KJB renders re'em as wild ox or wild bull.

These animals would not have been known to many early translators, and are now extinct. However there is some hope that aurochs could be largely recreated by selectively breeding hybrid animals.

Source

Satyr

Isaiah 13:13-14 states: "And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest."

The word translated here as satyr ("sa‘ir") could also be interpreted as goat, devil (in the pagan form of a goat). In any case, the meaning of the phrase is that a place has become wild or a wasteland, where wild goats might roam.

Upcoming sections:

  • Chimera
  • Giants
  • Leviathon
  • Lion Men

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Comments 10 comments

tnderhrt23 profile image

tnderhrt23 5 years ago

This is fascinating stuff, psycheskinner! I am anxious for more...you did say a work in progress, yes? Voted up!


psycheskinner profile image

psycheskinner 5 years ago Author

Thank you :). Yes I am still researching this subject....


IntimatEvolution profile image

IntimatEvolution 5 years ago from Columbia, MO USA

I've never considered the use of "Behemoth" in the bible to mean one particular animal. In my circle of religious study, I am like most of them in thinking the word Behemoth was merely a descriptive reference. Moreover, I thought that the idea of a behemoth being a mythical creature was a Middle Ages perception, not one supported by most biblical scholars to be of sound merit.

Behemoth, huh....

Are you telling us that people still believe this to be? Are you telling us that this is what biblical scholars believe, which is that people think the behemoth was a creature, and not just a way of describing a large beast? Got any supporting links to collaborate your writings? My study group would get a big tickle out of it.


psycheskinner profile image

psycheskinner 5 years ago Author

There is definitely a group who believe the behemoth to be a dinosaur--as part of a 'young earth creationist' outlook, like: http://www.creationists.org/dinosaurs-humans-coexi...

I think it is quite possible it was not meant to be a specific animal, but the details given for it are quite specific.


Nsirius profile image

Nsirius 5 years ago from Fukuoka, Japan

Good Hub.


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 5 years ago from Canada

As always I enjoyed your writing. I've heard of the behemoth version before-- but personally I took it as say a mammoth ( I think they were around until 10,000 BC) so there you go. Excellent hub as always.


Jordan 2 years ago

The word dinosaur was invented by Dr. Richard Owen in 1841. Prior to that time, terrible lizards were referred to as"dragons". . The apocrypha contains a story called "Bel and the dragon" where Daniel killed a dragon. There are literally thousands of ancient stories of dragons written as historical narratives, not fantasy.


Supuni Fernando profile image

Supuni Fernando 19 months ago from Colombo, Sri Lanka

Interesting hub, I find Dragons fascinating as well.


psycheskinner profile image

psycheskinner 19 months ago Author

"Written as historical" is not the same as "true"


MelindaJGH 13 months ago

I like very much the translations, interpretations, and illustrations relating to animals referenced in the Bible. Thanks for the creative analysis!

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